Jurgen Klopp has insisted that injuries ended Liverpool’s hopes of a title defence, as he also praises his players ‘character’ to continue fighting for a top-four spot.
After romping to a first league league title in 30 years last season, in which they finished 18 points clear of rivals Manchester City at the summit, the current campaign has been much more difficult, albeit with a strong chance of securing Champions League football heading into the final day.
The Reds had initially looked set to retain their title after a strong start to the season, ending 2020 four points clear at the top of the table, even after having lost first-choice centre-back pair Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez to injury in October and November, respectively.
However, following the turn of the year, those absences appeared to catch up with Klopp’s men, as their form took a noticeable turn, particularly at Anfield, where they suffered six successive league defeats for the first time in their history.
Such torrid form looked set to end any hopes of a top-four place, let alone the title, yet a recent fightback has ensured they head into the final day in fourth, knowing that a win will secure their place in next season’s elite European competition, owing to their superior goal difference over fifth-placed Leicester City.
Ahead of a final day assignment at home to Crystal Palace, the former Borussia Dortmund boss has insisted that no one, not even eventual champions City, would have been able to contend with their injury crisis.
“With our injuries it was not the year to become champions,” Klopp said at his pre-match press conference.
“No chance – for nobody.
“As good as they are, if City have their three centre-halves out, no [they don’t win the league]. Three centre-halves of [Manchester] United, no.
“We have fought back a bit, accepted the difficulties and made the best of it, and if we win on Sunday, and if we qualify for the Champions League, then we made the best of it. That is it.”
The German referred to his side as ‘mentality monsters’ last season amid their rampant title win, yet despite this season’s drop-off, he insists their struggle is not down to a downturn in their mentality.
“It is clear we wouldn’t come to this situation if the boys wouldn’t have showed this kind of character. They have very special character,” he added.
“The boys proved it now millions of times, it’s not about their mentality or character if something has gone wrong.
“Going through tough periods makes you stronger as a unit and in that time we didn’t get distracted. Nothing came between us.
“Yes we had our moments, players were not in the best shape or the best mood. I was not in the best mood, but we always found a way to stick together.
“We never blamed each other or pointed a finger at each other and said, ‘It is because of you or you’.
“So whatever happens on Sunday, we found our way out to bring us to this situation.”